Review

The Ghost

by Robert Harris

Former British Prime Minister Adam Lang is in temporary exile
in Martha’s Vineyard and in the process of turning his
memoirs into a bestseller. The only problem is that his ghostwriter
and long-time associate is found suspiciously drowned. In order to
get his book completed under the publisher’s strict deadline,
a new “ghost” must be assigned to finish the job.

So begins the premise of Robert Harris’s new thriller, The
Ghost. Harris is a bestselling author (ENIGMA, FATHERLAND),
political commentator for the BBC and newspaper columnist for the
London Sunday Times. He was also once very closely
acquainted with real-life former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
To say that Lang and Blair share similar backgrounds would be an
understatement. Like Blair, Lang rose to prominence in the British
political arena only after departing from an initial dream of
making it in the music/theatrical field. Lang appears to have been
pulled into politics by his wife Ruth and, like Blair, had no real
party affiliation or desire to one day become P.M.

Harris, like many British citizens, was at one time a strong
supporter of Blair only to feel betrayed by him due to his strong
allegiance to President George W. Bush and the United States in the
post-9/11 war on terror. The author has added another wrinkle to
Lang by making him a key suspect in several war crimes during
Operation Tempest. The timeliness of this portrayal is especially
poignant since we have just witnessed the highly publicized
nomination of Michael Mukasey for U.S Attorney General. This was
surrounded by controversy over the torture technique waterboarding,
which Lang might be guilty of approving during Operation
Tempest.

The job of ghostwriting is a very specialized craft, and each
chapter of THE GHOST opens with a quote from a fictional
ghostwriting handbook. One of the most interesting features of this
novel is that we are never given the name of the new ghostwriter
--- he is simply referred to as “the ghost.” The new
“ghost” has been a career ghostwriter, mostly doing
celebrity tell-alls, and has never covered a political figure
before. He is given a mere four weeks to get with Lang in his
Martha’s Vineyard location (not far from the infamous
Chappaquiddick) and rewrite the memoirs in Lang’s
“voice” while capturing him in a positive light that
will deflect the current war crime allegations that presently
surround him.

As “the ghost” begins to investigate Lang’s
memoirs and personal effects, he uncovers potential conspiracies
and associations that not only give credence to the war crime
accusations but may very well be the reason for the first
ghostwriter’s demise. Different clues lead the ghost to
meetings with a former college friend of Lang’s as well as a
former cabinet member who is now lead investigator into
Lang’s war crimes. What follows is a twisting thrill ride
with some serious shockers and an unexpected climax.

I was somewhat frustrated by THE GHOST. To begin with, it is
difficult to have a “hero” who is nameless; it keeps
you from really knowing who that person is. There also is not
enough time in the novel devoted to Lang. The reader is merely
taken along for a ride with the nameless ghost as he uncovers more
and more during his personal investigation, and you are unable to
make a determination as to what Lang may or may not be guilty of. I
also found none of the individuals in the book to be terribly
likable. It is understandable that Harris would have a cynical
approach to the former P.M. character, but they all come off as
suspicious and reprehensible. Even our ghost proves to be disloyal,
as he sleeps with the P.M.’s wife and goes on a date with the
P.M.’s cold-as-ice assistant.

It is a fact that Blair went from being almost as popular as
Winston Churchill early in his career to currently holding the
third-lowest approval rating (26%) of any former P.M. (behind
Margaret Thatcher and current P.M. Gordon Brown). Harris’s
feelings toward Blair and the current British government in general
are obviously tainted with his feeling of personal betrayal, a tone
that permeates the entire novel.

The ending does contain shocks and political machinations but wraps
things up a little too neatly. I enjoyed reading the book because
of the complex characters and issues it covers but feel it would be
better suited for a Hollywood script than a bestselling novel. At
the time of this review, I have learned that Roman Polanski has
already signed on to direct the film version in 2008. I look
forward to seeing how THE GHOST translates to the big screen.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 22, 2011

The Ghost
by Robert Harris

  • Publication Date: August 19, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • ISBN-10: 1416551824
  • ISBN-13: 9781416551829